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RF scientists devise way to study living cells by quantum methods

November 10, 2011, 15:41 UTC+3

Methods, which were developed for research in the field of quantum information

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MOSCOW, November 10 (Itar-Tass) — Methods, which were developed for research in the field of quantum information, have been applied by Russian scientists for the first time in an experiment on a living cell.

The approach is expected to provide researchers with utterly new resources for gauging the parameters of the cell's vital activity, which is exceptionally important to physicists, biologists, and medics, a scientific worker at the Physics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (FIAN) told Itar-Tass on Thursday.

Working in science collaboration with the group of Professor Mikhail Lukin at Harvard, scientists of the Russian research institute, which is recognized as the world leader in laser research, have for the first time employed quantum information technologies for the study of processes evolving in the living cell.

In physics, researchers by means of quantum information technologies measure the state of the so-called cubit, or a quantum order or color center in diamond. In science parlance, quantum is an indivisible portion of some quantity. In other words, scientists have employed the tiniest quantity they have been able to reach for research into the cell.

Alexei Akimov, one of the co-authors of the experiment and senior researcher at FIAN, said, "If we can measure the state of cubit in an atom or in the color center in diamond, we shall also be able with high accuracy to measure the external disturbance, to which the atom or color center is subjected. Those may be electrical or magnetic fields. Judging by those fields, researchers can draw some or other conclusions about the biochemistry of the cell".

Akimov said that due to the fact that chemists "have learned to create molecules that adhere to strictly defined parts of the cell", physicists have implanted a diamond crystal, the size of 20-30 nanometres, with a color center into such a molecule.

When the diamond is irradiated by a pulse laser or elecromagnetic radiation, the color center excites and, in its turn, begins to emit radiation. It remains only to gauge the arising magnetic field to obtain quantitative data on the biochemical processes in the cell, on the state of the crystal medium and environment, for example, on the movement of free radicals, and so on.

"Purely physical parameters correlate in a definite way with the biochemistry of the cell and the processes evolving in it. Such measuremens can be made in both a living cell and in a tissue, or in an organism. Consequently, the new method can be applied in the broadest range of research, from work on an isolated cell to research into human brain processes," Akimov pointed out.

As soon as the method will be put to an evaluation test, physicists will make room room for biologists and medical specialists, FIAN researchers say. A new organization -- Russian Quantum Center, the project for which was approved by the Skolkovo Foundation -- has been established to commercialize the research work.

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